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TheLowDown

A luthier's experience with tonewoods

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My 2 cents:

 

Tone Contributors (Physical Bass Only):

Woods - 2%

Body shape - 3%

Neck construction (thru/bolt on) - 5%

Body construction (solid/hollow) - 10%

Pick ups - 25%

Electronics - 40%

Strings - 10% (based on new strings)

Hardware - 5%

 

Tone Contributors (How The Player Plays):

Hand style (finger/pick/slap) - 65%

Attack of chosen style (hard/soft) - 35%

 

That's somewhere close to how I see everything effect the tone of a bass, all in, for me, the wood choice does have a slight impact, but it's impact it dwarfed by the impact of other areas of a basses full construction.

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Good to see the old ‘tone is in the fingers’ comment doing the rounds again. It’s true that varying your attack and hand position can alter the timbre of a given sound, but you simply cannot make a P bass sound like a 70s Jazz with your fingers unless you use said fingers to install pickups 😂

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16 hours ago, Lozz196 said:

I would echo the maple/rosewood thing though, at the Herts Bass Bash I think most that were there heard the difference on the shootouts we did.

But is it a maple/rosewood thing or a lacquered/unlacquered thing? 

 I know that's kind of irrelevant as maple/lacquered, rosewood/unlacquered tend to go hand in hand. It it would be interesting to compared a lacquered rosewood to an unlacquered maple fretboard just to see if those perceptions swapped. 

Rick's have lacquered bubinga fretboards and maybe that adds to their sound. 

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36 minutes ago, ped said:

Good to see the old ‘tone is in the fingers’ comment doing the rounds again. It’s true that varying your attack and hand position can alter the timbre of a given sound, but you simply cannot make a P bass sound like a 70s Jazz with your fingers unless you use said fingers to install pickups 😂

Yup, pickup position and type are a major factor in how a bass sounds.

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35 minutes ago, ped said:

Good to see the old ‘tone is in the fingers’ comment doing the rounds again. It’s true that varying your attack and hand position can alter the timbre of a given sound, but you simply cannot make a P bass sound like a 70s Jazz with your fingers unless you use said fingers to install pickups 😂

Within the realms of what's possible on your bass, fingers can alter THAT tone/timbre, but obviously you're not going to get a double bass to sound like an Alembic no matter how much you claim you have magic fingers! 

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1 hour ago, ped said:

Good to see the old ‘tone is in the fingers’ comment doing the rounds again. It’s true that varying your attack and hand position can alter the timbre of a given sound, but you simply cannot make a P bass sound like a 70s Jazz with your fingers unless you use said fingers to install pickups 😂

I don't think you get the 'tone is in the hands' quote. It's not about making a Jazz sound like a Precision or a Hofner or whatever. It's about how a particular player brings their individually to an instrument. It's why Pino sounds different to JJ Burnell even though they both play Precisions, or why Marcus sounds different to Jaco even though they both play Jazz Basses.  Likewise, a player can play different basses, and while there will be a change in sound due to the instrument, there is still something recognizable in the tone due to the player. Look how many discussions there are about whether Geddy Lee played his Jazz or Ric. 

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19 hours ago, skankdelvar said:

Voodoo sells.

Sure does.

That's why advertising revolves around those near universal obsessions-

SEX AND VOODOO!

Edited by Jus Lukin
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1 hour ago, Maude said:

But is it a maple/rosewood thing or a lacquered/unlacquered thing? 

 I know that's kind of irrelevant as maple/lacquered, rosewood/unlacquered tend to go hand in hand. It it would be interesting to compared a lacquered rosewood to an unlacquered maple fretboard just to see if those perceptions swapped. 

Rick's have lacquered bubinga fretboards and maybe that adds to their sound. 

That’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of that but yes, maybe it’s more the hard lacquer on the maple boards than the actual wood itself.

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38 minutes ago, Doddy said:

I don't think you get the 'tone is in the hands' quote. It's not about making a Jazz sound like a Precision or a Hofner or whatever. It's about how a particular player brings their individually to an instrument. It's why Pino sounds different to JJ Burnell even though they both play Precisions, or why Marcus sounds different to Jaco even though they both play Jazz Basses.  Likewise, a player can play different basses, and while there will be a change in sound due to the instrument, there is still something recognizable in the tone due to the player. Look how many discussions there are about whether Geddy Lee played his Jazz or Ric. 

Oh absolutely - I understand that, but it’s amazing how often people say things like ‘I sound the same whatever I play’ which often then leads to the other fave ‘the audience won’t notice what bass you play’ - but then in the next minute they’re debating the advantages of ceramic magnets!

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31 minutes ago, Jus Lukin said:

Sure does.

That's why advertising revolves those near universal obsessions-

SEX AND VOODOO!

Sex with a Voodoo doll of yourself is the only true example of a closed infinity loop. 

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'Tone is in the fingers', but you only have your fingers. Therefore, you need to use other methods to change your tone. For me, this would be: use different gauge picks; use different strings; change the pickups (the very things that change mechanical energy into electrical energy). The only time wood comes into it is when you're buying a new bass or ordering a custom build. My customs are both alder, as it's a nice weight, is reasonably priced and builders seem to like working with it.

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28 minutes ago, ped said:

Oh absolutely - I understand that, but it’s amazing how often people say things like ‘I sound the same whatever I play’ which often then leads to the other fave ‘the audience won’t notice what bass you play’ - but then in the next minute they’re debating the advantages of ceramic magnets!

To be fair, the majority of the audience don't care what bass is being played as long as it sounds good. I don't even think that bass players can correctly identify a bass purely based on sound 97% of the time. But, I do think they are more likely to identify the player.

Back to woods- I do think they make a difference to the sound of an instrument, particularly the fingerboard. 

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Quite obvious that on a fretted neck, the type of lacquer used inbetween those frets is essential!

Seriously though, "physically present" does not equal "noticable by human ear".

I guess the wood used in a bass only really counts in one respect: how bendy it makes the neck. 
IOW there might be a noticeable difference between a bendy fretboard on a bendy neck and a stiff fretboard on a stiff neck. I don't know the answer to this, but sense that physics command it.

The bass remains a bow, and a bow has to answer to physics. 
Once the bow stops answering to physics, you might not go home with the lady you're aiming at.
 

Oh, wait!

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I really like lacquered fingerboards and I also like rosewood fingerboards so on any bass I've build, I lacquer the rosewood. I've no idea if it effects the sound but it certainly feels nicer to me.

In my opinion, the sound of a bass is also effected by the sounds of the rest of the band around you and the songs that you're playing.

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On 25/02/2021 at 12:57, TheLowDown said:

In most bolt-on solid bodies, the wood has almost zero effect on the tone. Only the strings and pickups matter to tone.

I have had this viewpoint for quite a while now.   Interesting link, thanks!  I would also add that choice of fingerboard material doesn't matter at all to tone, as the strings never actually touch the fingerboard on most fretted instruments, they touch the frets only.

In theory, if you mounted pickups, a bridge, a nut, some frets and strings to an old wooden workbench, and kept the proportions the same as a Jazz Bass (scale length, pickup position etc), and then ran the signal to an output jack, it would sound like a Jazz Bass.

I think choice of woods and finishes are for vanity only.

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Roger Sadowsky said that his experience is that lighter basses sounded better. He only chambers the body to save weight because he wasn’t getting lightweight woods anymore. I think there is a difference, bass to bass, but I’m not sure how much is down to different woods or different examples of the same wood. Ash is a perfect example. A super-light swamp ash bass can weigh 3.5Kg, whereas some 70s Fenders top 5.5Kg. Will they really sound identical mated to the same neck, hardware and electronics. And swamp ash isn’t a separate species, just a name for ash that grew underwater. There can be huge differences in cell structure in the same tree. Then there is the drying and residual moisture content. So it’s actually very hard to make any clear judgements about wood. In general, every bass I’ve played with a maple fingerboard has had more fret noise and more clank when played solo, but again I’d probably fail to recognise the difference in a blind test, and even the tonal changes between a passive single coil and active humbucker are quite nuanced. I’ve owned two basses with a wedge neck, a Warwick and an MTD. Despite different body woods, hardware and electronics the basic tone was almost identical.

Logically, though, do this test: pluck a string and put your ear to the body, or rest the headstock against something wooden and solid, like a dining table. It amplifies the sound, and it is a distinct sound, without considering the electronics. How much that “sound” actually differs bass to bass may well be the hardware and strings, but the wood still resonates, so no matter how small, there must be some effect.

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11 hours ago, binky_bass said:

My 2 cents:

 

Tone Contributors (Physical Bass Only):

Woods - 2%

Body shape - 3%

Neck construction (thru/bolt on) - 5%

Body construction (solid/hollow) - 10%

Pick ups - 25%

Electronics - 40%

Strings - 10% (based on new strings)

Hardware - 5%

 

Tone Contributors (How The Player Plays):

Hand style (finger/pick/slap) - 65%

Attack of chosen style (hard/soft) - 35%

 

That's somewhere close to how I see everything effect the tone of a bass, all in, for me, the wood choice does have a slight impact, but it's impact it dwarfed by the impact of other areas of a basses full construction.

Interesting analysis.

Do you have an overall percentage split between bass and player?

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3 minutes ago, Nail Soup said:

Interesting analysis.

Do you have an overall percentage split between bass and player?

Hard to quantify, probably as a rough average 70/30 Bass to player. Depends how aggressive/light handed a player is!

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The problem with the ‘science’ of this is that other science, that everyone hears things differently. Which means you’ll never get agreement either way. 

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For what it's worth. . . . . .

I have been interested in this since the 70s and generally follow a rule of play it/listen to it and then decide if you like it, as opposed to Look at the name on the head an see how Visually appealing it is, Being lucky enough to be able to select several different instruments at one time, I have vever really found a solid and consistant rule of thumb. There is a thread on at the moment about plywood bodies and I have/have had various ones of those and can honestly say that some were absolute dogs and some were really very good. I can (and have, many times) take three or four of something, same make and model/same year/or one year younger or older, maybe different colour but that's all and the all have subtle differences. I have had £150 purchaces and been blown away by the sound and conversely bought something online (which we all do now but didn't 20/30 years ago) because it seemed to tick all my criteria boxes but just couldn't get to love it - tonewood/high mass bridge/fancy pots/high end tuners etc but just couldn't get on with it.

Being interested in this, I have gone through the posts and I think bubinga5 made a valid comment " It will always be the sum of the parts. Way too many variables to nail any conclusions down".

It is also about fashions, anyone old enough would remember the days when most players lusted for the new this and the new that and older instruments would have been seen to be "high milage" and needed to be replaced. Now, those old instuments are highly prized. Are they all made from exotic woods, perhaps not.

Having said all of the above, I am like almost all on here and my head has been turned by something that I have loved the look of and may have been lucky on many occasions, to find that I did like it.

Blindfolded, can you really tell the difference between a £10,000 bass and a £5000 bass with beautiful and appealing tonewoods . . . . . maybe, maybe not. Can you tell between a £5000 bass and a £500 bass. . . . maybe, maybe not. Between £500 and £50, more than likely, yes. Fit a new set of strings, a different sound and tone - different lead/head/cab/room/floor/ceiling = different sound and tone.

This is something that will roll on for generations, I believe it's a personal thing - maybe best to leave it that no one is right and no one is wrong.

👍😎:D

 

 

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This topic strikes a chord and goes to the very heart of many a bass players vulnerability. Over the years I've owned them all. 80's fads, 90's fads, 00's fads etc, etc.Headless, 5 string, 6 string. Jazz, P, new world, extended range. All colours you can imagine. Ive spent a small fortune on basses and related stuff to meet my desire to be better, and find the tone!!!. My conclusion is this. Pickups matter, electronics matter. My ability and ears dwindle. The rest is a version of the emperors new clothes.

Having said all this, I'm returning to my deluded world and and very happy here

Edited by KingPrawn
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6 hours ago, FDC484950 said:

Logically, though, do this test: pluck a string and put your ear to the body, or rest the headstock against something wooden and solid, like a dining table. It amplifies the sound, and it is a distinct sound, without considering the electronics. How much that “sound” actually differs bass to bass may well be the hardware and strings, but the wood still resonates, so no matter how small, there must be some effect.

I’ve had multiple examples of the same bass at the same time. They all sounded noticeably different, both acoustically and plugged in. I’ve amused myself on occasion by swapping everything between basses; hardware, electronics, even strings, and then setting them up as close as is humanly possible, to see what happens, with no preconceptions. They still sounded noticeably different, both acoustically and plugged in. So my experience is that the specific pieces of wood in a given instrument must make a difference. However, as per my previous post, not everyone will necessarily hear that difference, because we all hear things differently. A friend who is a good player with decent ears played a couple of my basses (now long gone) back to back once and he thought they sounded exactly the same. I thought they sounded completely different. YMMV. 

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